You've gotta sympathize with old man Jarvis Summers, who ended his otherwise brilliant career in red and blue with eight missed shot attempts in the Rebels' second-round loss in the NCAA Tournament. The somber ovation as he left the floor is little consolation for Summers -- Ole Miss' eighth all-time leading scorer with 1,629 career points -- insofar as his individual struggles against Xavier are representative of all the Basketbears on Thursday.
Following second-half heroics in the Dayton Deluge over BYU on Tuesday, Andy Kennedy's road warriors grappled with Xavier on just 41 hours of, um, rest, which in the end became a non-factor. The Rebs looked not so much gassed as just plain disorganized on both sides of the court, and Xavier's human steamroller Matt Stainbrook made 'em pay down low with 20 bullish points.
Ole Miss never really seemed in this game. AK surely knew that the Musketeers would rely on a strong inside-out offensive attack, but the Rebs' adaptability -- so crucial to Tuesday's success -- evaporated on Thursday along with their shooting accuracy, defensive cohesion and all-around execution.
Let's dig into exactly what went wrong on Thursday afternoon.
On the defensive side, the Rebels offered predominantly zone sets, which initially found success. The 1-3-1 press at first did what it's designed to do, and Xavier found themselves in disjointed situations around the midcourt a handful of times. Yet, given enough looks, the Muskies managed to pass their way around the Rebel trap and set themselves into their favored halfcourt style of play.
And it's in the halfcourt that
Nosferatu's Chris Mack's men carved up the Ole Miss zone. The Musketeers love to distribute the ball -- they average just over 16 assists per game -- and their sound passing play drew the Rebs out of position around the arc for 10 three pointers on the day. And if Xavier wasn't trashing Ole Miss with the inside-out game, they were riding Stainbrook's Rec-Specs all the way to the rim.
The Rebs' defensive woes carried over into the fouls column, which saw Tuesday's savior M.J. Rhett tally two quick no-no's and sit out for most of the first period. Hard to say what could have been had Rhett not abstained for so long, but his 12 second-half points certainly could have been added to. And further, Xavier attempted 21 free throws to Ole Miss' five. Five free throws. Yuck.
Ole Miss was 19-4 on the season when they shot just 40 percent from the field, so it's little wonder that Thursday's 32.9 percent performance netted them a short stay in the Big Dance. Likewise, the Rebs' 6-of-27 from beyond the arc lands their three-point shooting percentage somewhere between whale shit and the bottom of the ocean. Everyone was inaccurate -- Stefan Moody turned in a relatively pedestrian 14 points -- but nothing sums up the Rebels' brick wall construction like Aaron Jones getting denied by the rim:
Rimcheck WELP https://t.co/dkkgT5WxgC— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) March 19, 2015
Andy Kennedy's face there says it all: "Garbage, man, just straight garbage." One wonders, though, what happened to the rhythm, guys? Xavier controlled the pace of play from opening bell to closing buzzer. And in fact, speaking of Ole Miss' 1-3-1 defense, the Musketeers threw it right back at them. Said AK after the game:
They played that 1-3-1 zone about 10 percent of the time to this point of the season, and they stayed for the 1-3-1 for really the entire game, and it did its job. What's ironic is our 1-3-1 is the reason we're in the NCAA Tournament, and their 1-3-1 zone is the reason we're going home.
That hurts, but it's a fair assessment of the Rebels' offensive boondoggle on Thursday. They couldn't pass their way out of an open barn, and their abhorrent shot selection is the logical outcome of such fundamental breakdowns. Even with Matt Stainbrook drawing a technical foul and sitting through the middle of the second period, no real offensive production occurred, and that's a damn shame.
It's difficult to eulogize these Basketbears with such a sour taste still in the mouth. They were in turns hilarious and infuriating and punchy and scream-at-the-walls awful and lights-out accurate. They could turn around a 17-point deficit and make you question your grip on reality. They contorted Andy Kennedy's face into a million refractions of our own personal angst. That dim, ever-present awareness that things could spiral out of control at any minute.
And on Thursday, things spiraled out of control one last time. We love you, Basketbears.